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5th-Grade Journalists Report Quake News Close to Home

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some of the most poignant, firsthand reporting of the Northridge earthquake came from a handful of young journalists who put out something called the Calahan Chronicle.

Calahan School fifth-graders worked with fervor and diligence to get out their special earthquake edition--which they reported and edited in two weeks, instead of the six weeks it usually takes to produce their newsletter.

The 800 copies of the 12-page paper go out to all school families and many in the school’s Northridge neighborhood, as well as to other schools and school administrators in the Valley.

And this particular issue went to other cities, to the many people who had lent aid and support after the Jan. 17 quake.

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Calahan School was near the epicenter, an area of heavy damage. Help came to the school and its families from all over, including bags of clothing sent from students at Bancroft Elementary School in Spring Valley, Calif.

According to Calahan Principal Rick Wetzell, the paper is a good learning experience for the students, as well as an excellent way to reach out to the community and tell the school’s neighbors what is going on.

The paper’s adviser is Cheryl Crooks, a free-lance journalist whose byline has appeared in Time, Parents and American Health magazines. Crooks, whose two sons attend Calahan, comes into the classroom every Friday morning to work with fifth-graders on the paper.

She and the young staff begin the process of putting out each issue with a story conference, the way they do at big-league national publications.

“We discuss what subjects are of interest in the school and in the community, and then students request the stories they would like to do,” Crooks says.

The students are then responsible for following up on the interviewing and reporting. “Their level of responsibility, competence and enthusiasm often surprises me,” Crooks says of the 9- and 10-year-olds.

Crooks began the program two years ago in what has been a strictly volunteer effort, with the support of fifth-grade teacher Marianne Brooker.

Crooks has taught her young reporters such concepts as the inverted-pyramid style of news writing and how to craft a proper lead. The students punch their stories into one of the paper’s three computers, and Crooks edits them and lays out the paper on her home computer.

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For the earthquake edition there was a front-page story, by Christine Lu and Kristen Rodner, about the personal experiences of Calahan students, many of whom were left homeless by the quake.

Calahan kindergartner Jasmin Horton, who lived in the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, tells how she hid under the coffee table when the shaking started, while her dad kicked the apartment door open so the family could get out.

First-grader Sheer Laskier and third-grader Ron Laskier tell about escaping their collapsing apartment by jumping out a window, and fourth-grader Antuane Rosas says her family got out of their apartment by “stepping over our stuff.”

Kesiha Hawkins, a fourth-grader, tells how her apartment was condemned and she is now living with a relative, and Terra Marie Weigold, a fourth-grader, tells how her mom had to unscrew a door to get her dog out.

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Also on the first page is a story by Tamara Matinata, which tells how topsy-turvy things were once Calahan School was able to reopen Jan. 28.

Inside stories tell about how the earthquake affected local businesses and how some Cal State Northridge students are attending class at Calahan because their classrooms are condemned.

One enterprising student, Eric Hodgkins, did a phone interview with Eric Riggs, a California Institute of Technology data analyst of seismic activity. His story included a two-page printout of what the quake looked like on a seismograph, courtesy of Cal Tech.

Hodgkins’ first question was, “why can’t we see earthquakes coming?”

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Something we would all like to know.

The answer was that they are undetectable because they are an underground phenomenon, something the Calahan Chronicle definitely is not.

Happy Mother’s Day--and Eat My Dust

Car pooling making you crazy, mom?

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Long waits on the freeway driving you batty?

Long for an out-of-car body experience?

Lust to put the pedal all the way down?

Mother’s Day is May 8 and it’s not a moment too early to let the family know what you want to commemorate your day.

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How about a $1,000 course in drag racing at the California Drag Racing School at Palmdale’s Los Angeles County Raceway, where you can wheel around in a $50,000 dragster capable of doing a quarter-mile in nine seconds flat?

If that’s a bit pricey, you can take the family vehicle out to the raceway any weekend and for $20 floor that sucker all day long to your heart’s content.

“We get a lot of frustrated motorists out here for both the school and raceway,” says Donna Tite.

“It relieves a lot of pent-up anger,” says Tite, assistant to raceway manager Bernie Longjohn, “and it’s cheaper than therapy.”

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Overheard:

“The divorce is going along OK, but I think it’s going to take plastic surgery to separate my wife from her credit cards.”

One man to another at a Studio City bar


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